40 under Forty event shows there's a fountain of youth in Berkshires

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PITTSFIELD — Billy Keane is a travelin' man at work and play.

The broker and co-owner of Jan Perry Realty and Associates in Pittsfield spends plenty of time on the road trying to close real estate deals, backed up by his wife and co-owner, Waterfall Perry, and the staff.

Off-hours, Keane is a singer/songwriter with the five-member band The Whiskey Treaty Roadshow, which tours throughout the Northeast and heads for the West Coast in mid-June for a two-week excursion.

The Mansfield, Conn., native finds both professions a financial roller coaster.

"The real estate and music business are alike, as you try to maintain a solid income for both," he said.

Keane, 32, and his wife had hoped to spend all of March in Nashville, Tenn., keeping tabs on their business as Keane looked to make connections and inroads for the band in the Music City.

"I was feeling old and decrepit, and when I heard I was being honored, we cut our trip short," he said.

The honor was Keane being chosen for this year's 40 Under Forty, celebrating the Berkshires' outstanding young professionals from education, finance, health, arts, entertainment and other careers.

The 13 men and 27 women were feted Thursday evening by Berkshire Community College, in partnership with 1Berkshire and The Berkshire Eagle, at the Holiday Inn and Suites.

This year's honorees were chosen by 11 judges out of a record group of 160 nominees, according to BCC Director of Development Shela Hidalgo.

"We have 20 natives and 20 who chose the Berkshires. I'm in the latter group and never regretted the decision," BCC President Ellen Kennedy said in her opening remarks.

Thirty-something Alison Basdekis is one of those transplants, balancing a day job, part-time farming and raising her 2-year-old daughter, Maggie.

The 35-year-old originally from Longmeadow has spent the past 10 years helping teenage girls learn about life off campus as director of Horizons at Miss Hall's School in Pittsfield.

Horizons provides the students with professional internships, service projects and volunteerism within the community, according to the school's website.

Basdekis' path to education began in 2007, while working with the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition and finding a mentor in former coalition employee Kate Merrigan.

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"We developed a strong friendship and developed a philosophy of treating young people as people, and that set me on my way," she said.

In her spare time, Basdekis and her husband, Keegan, operate Shaker Creek Farm in Stephentown, N.Y., growing a variety of fruits and vegetables, and raising chickens for eggs and food.

She finds farming and education similar: Each requires planning as one gears up for a new growing/academic season each year.

"You're always learning doing both, and every year brings new challenges," Basdekis said.

A.J. Enchill has found that being homegrown has been an asset in being the district aide for state Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield. The 25-year-old Pittsfield native says knowing the county and the issues facing Berkshirites has helped in dealing with Hinds' constituents.

Enchill also has the experience of being the eyes and ears of a legislator, having interned for Massachusetts U.S. Rep. Katherine Clark during his senior year at Tufts University in 2015.

Enchill developed his interest for politics, in part, thanks to NPR on WAMC in Albany, N.Y.

"I grew up listening to NPR and Alan Chartock," he said. "They spoke at length about issues and brought in people looking to solve those issues."

Enchill also has found a mentor in Hinds.

"The senator has a coolness and compassion that I have adopted and learned to focus on work, at work, relaxing on my off time," he added.

Becky Cushing's mentors early on were grandparents Lois and and Bob Vessels. They taught Cushing all about the flora and fauna of her surroundings during her childhood summer vacations with the couple on Cape Cod.

When the Saratoga, N.Y., native attended Middlebury College in Vermont, that would start her journey to eventually becoming the director of Massachusetts Audubon's six Berkshire wildlife sanctuaries, a job she has held since May 2014.

"I had a biology professor, and I can remember one day holding a chickadee in my hand; it was a great feeling," she said.

While working for Mass Audubon in the eastern part of the state in the early 2000s, Cushing was encouraged to further her education toward one day being in a leadership role with Mass Audubon. She would graduate from the University of Vermont with a master's degree in science before landing what she calls her "dream job."

"Finding a career that's also a passion is the ultimate goal," said the Housatonic resident.

Dick Lindsay can be reached at rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com and 413-496-6233.


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